|AGRICULTURE TRIBUNE||Monday, July 1, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
genetically altered crops benefit farming?
capacity to become world leader in wheat production
plants grow uniformly
genetically altered crops benefit farming?
Amidst a heated debate and raging controversy over the advisability of going in for the genetically altered crops, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Government of India has given a green signal for the conditional release of three transgenic cotton varieties developed by the American agrochemical giant Monsanto and tested by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) in various parts of India for the past three years. But while approving the cultivation of three transgenic cotton varieties suitable for central, southern and northern cotton zones of India, the GEAC has stipulated a minimum of five rows of traditional non-transgenic cotton on the periphery of the farm covered with transgenic cotton. This is said to be essential to delay the build up of resistance among insects so that the so-called Bt. transgenic cotton retains its effectiveness. Further Mahyco would be required to conduct "insect load" studies to detect any resistance to the Bt.gene. In addition, Mahyco should also undertake pollen transfer studies and report any cross pollination that may lead to genetic modification of other plant varieties.
While a section of researchers and captains of industry has welcomed the clearance given to the planting of Bt. cotton saying that it is a milestone of great significance to the Indian agriculture, environmentalists, social activists and small farmers have expressed their opposition to the planting of transgenic cotton varieties without adequate precautionary measures and safeguards.
"The trials have been highly inadequate and led to a corrupt decision under the pressure of multinationals like Monsanto," said the leading ecoactivist, Dr Vandana Shiva. She drove home the point that after much research into the dynamics of transgenic crop cultivation, the European Union (EU) has cold-shouldered the concept of using genetically altered crops for boosting food yield. Other environmental activists in the country have questioned the claims of the pest control technique inherent in Bt. cotton. They say that Monsanto was forced to pay millions of dollars in damages to farmers in the USA who found that the claims made by Monsanto in respect of its genetically altered crops were far from true. Citing the low resistance at the end of the season when the pest incidence is at its peak, they have also expressed fears about genetic contamination into other plant varieties and danger to non-target animals and development of resistance to the toxin in pests.
V.L. Chopra, president of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, says that transgenic crops should be introduced only after adequate safety evaluation conducted by the public laboratories. A proper cost analysis should be carried out and some risks should be acceptable if benefits outweigh disadvantages.
Essentially, Bt. cotton carries a gene obtained from the soil-borne micro-organism bacillus thuringeinsis (Bt) to afford protection against lepidoptora, a major cotton pest. It produces a protein which is harmful to the pest. Sources in Monsanto claim that Bt. cotton is resistant to both the bollworms and caterpillars. Further Monsanto claims that initial trials in India had suggested that Bt. cotton had 20 to 25 per cent higher yield and required fewer sprayings of insecticides and pesticides. It was in 1902 that a Japanese scientist, Dr Ishiwata, first discovered Bt.
Today Bt. cotton crop covers more than 8 million hectares throughout the world. Monsanto is also planning to bring more advanced varieties of genetically modified cotton crops into India. On another front, Monsanto is also mulling over the possibility of entering Pakistan, a major cotton producer. Monsanto claims that the cultivation of Bt. cotton will result in a saving of Rs 1,800 per hectare on insecticides.
Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna, coming down heavily on those opposing transgenic crops, said that in China farmers were reaping the benefits of biotechnology by accepting Bt. cotton as a commercial crop. Krishna quipped, "I don’t see any reason why Indian farmers should be deprived of the fruits of research and development in the field."
It may be recalled that a couple of years back, a militant farmers’ outfit in Karnataka, KRRS (Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha), had burnt down a few experimental Bt. plantings in parts of the state. Prof K.N. Najnundswamy, the volatile chief of the KRRS has made it clear that the fight against transgenic crops and multinationals should continue without any let or hindrance.
Meanwhile, Union Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh has revealed that India is likely to develop its own transgenic cotton within three years from now. Indicating that India was ahead in developing transgenic crops, he said that biotechnological research for improvement of fruit crops such as mango, banana, citrus, grape and pineapple was in the early phases of development.
scientists at the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Mumbai, and the
Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) in Shimla are involved in
developing a transgenic tobacco plant by using a gene isolated from a
pest-affected tobacco. This transgenic tobacco plant can resist a major
pest called potato virus which affects potato, tobacco and tomato.
capacity to become world leader in wheat production
India has the capacity to become world leader in the production of wheat. India has already overtaken the USA in wheat production by crossing the 75-million tonnes mark.
India is producing more wheat than the USA from the same area. If this trend continues, India can become world’s largest wheat producer in the next few years. If Indian farmers improve the quality of grains and reduce costs of production, producing more wheat will not be a problem for the country.
Having led the world in ushering in the Green Revolution over three decades ago, India is now on the verge of another agricultural revolution that will help reduce costs and conserve natural resources.
This would improve price competitiveness of Indian grains in the international market. Moreover, Indian farmers have surprised the world by their ability to imbibe new technology, according to Dr B.K. Makean, senior scientists, Indian Council of Agriculture and Research, New Delhi.
With the improved technology cultivation costs are likely to come down by 40 per cent. Dr Makean had visited a number of villages in Punjab and Haryana where the new conservation technology for wheat production has been adopted.
Wheat export policy
The government is working on a three pronged long-term policy for wheat export which includes a more durable price regime, quality control and management of demand and supply. A major concern of the exporters would be addressed by not changing the price frequently due to which rates were different when a buyer’s query came during the signing of a contract and when it was expected.
But pricing will be only one part of the policy as it would incorporate steps for quality upgradation and better domestic management of the produce. Many a time a number of countries were reluctant to purchase Indian produce, saying it was infected with fungus, "Karnal bunt".
The policy is likely to take strict quality control. It would also suggest measure for segregating and grading wheat before storage so that the better quality segment could fetch a premium in the international market. To prevent rejection of any consignment on quality ground, the policy envisages setting up of a large-scale cleaning facilities mostly in the private sector.
The policy also envisages close cooperation between the Ministries of Commerce and Agriculture and the Department of Biotechnology. Besides, the new agricultural policy aims at encouraging the private sector investment in agriculture, particularly in research, human resources development, post-harvest management and marketing. Agricultural research, extension and the education system should be oriented to meet the new requirements under world trade specifications.
Meanwhile, the government has been devising a strategy to double the agricultural exports from the current Rs 10,000 crore within next five years and is speeding up its commodity specific zones project. Recently 10 new agri-export zones have been created across the country. The emphasis is on convergence of all the existing schemes under one umbrella coordinated partnership of the central and state governments and private sector and increased focus on each agro-commodity. To achieve the Rs 20,000-crore target all the points in the value chain from seeds to market intervention have been addressed within the zone.
agriculture items are likely to grow rather strongly primarily on
account of wheat since it will have to do more with the compulsions of
the government’s grain mountain, rather than any other economics. It
will also be injudicious to expect significant increase in merchandise
exports in 2002-2003. Given the continued declaration in imports from
the USA and European countries as evidenced in 2001 onwards.
Dr Sandy Wilson, an assistant professor of the Environmental Horticulture University of Florida (UF), and her fellow researchers are testing coloured plastic films that filter growth-promoting light waves to help commercial nurseries keep plants uniform in size.
Chemicals have been used to control plant height in the past but because of increasing environmental concerns researchers are now trying to find other methods to control plant height.
The farmers prefer uniform plant size because it speeds plant establishment in the field and makes it easier to pack and transport mature plants.
The coloured plastic film in her current experiments filters infrared light which is responsible for the development of long stems in plants.
Her goal is to inhibit stem elongation with out sacrificing plant quality.
When grown in a green house covered with a photo-selective film, plants respond to subtle changes in the amount of infra-red light they receive. Most plants grown under the infrared light absorbing film are about 25 per cent shorter than plants grown under clear film. The results are comparable to plants treated with chemical growth regulators.
In 1997, scientists at Clemson University collaborated with Japan-based Mitsui Chemicals to develop the coloured polythylene films now being tested.
The scientists at Ohio State University and Clemson University are testing plants from their regions, and scientists at the UF are testing plants grown in southern states of the USA.
Dr Sandy Wilson is also testing the polythylene film to determine if it degrades faster in hot regions.
The only other problems involve delayed flowering time for certain species. Because coloured film has different effects on certain species, farmers may need to group plants accordingly in the green house setting.
In addition to ornamental plants, the coloured films have been used on vegetables such as Capsicum, tomato and fruits like watermelon. The potential applications are extensive and exciting. Plant growth regulation without chemicals will be the future of the industry.
The idea of using
coloured polythylene film was first tried in the early 1980s when green
house panels filled with liquid dye were widely investigated for
filtering out infrared radiation to control temperature. Later,
researchers used other liquid dyes that contained pigments to absorb
infrared and other light wavelengths. The dye-infused panels were
successful so the next natural step was finding a less-expensive
material that was easier to use.
Farm operations for July
— Pusa Basmati-1 during the first fortnight and Basmati-370 and Basmati-386 should be transplanted during the second fortnight of July. Apply first dose of 09 kg urea/acre after three weeks of transplanting basmati rice.
— For control of weeds in paddy, use 1200 ml of any recommended brand formulation of Butachlor 50 EC or Pendimethalin 30 EC @ 1000-1200 ml or Pretilachlor 50 EC @ 600 ml or Anilofos 30 EC @500 ml/acre by mixing with 60 kg of sand. Broadcast any one of the herbicides uniformly in 4 to 5 cm deep standing water within 2 to 3 days of transplanting.
— For the control of broadleaf weeds, spray Ally 20 WP (Metsulfuron @ 30g/acre in 150 litres of water at 20 to 25 days after transplanting. Before spray, the standing water from the field should be drained out and irrigation may be applied one day after spray. The spray should be done on a clear and calm day.
— Apply 37 kg of urea per acre to the paddy transplanted in June. In case, zinc deficiency appears, apply 25 kg of zinc sulphate per acre. On coarse textured soils (sandy soils) iron deficiency can be expected in rice. The upper leaves turn white in colour. To correct it spray 1 per cent ferrous sulphate solution 2 to 3 times at weekly intervals.
— The rice fields showing more than 5 per cent dead hearts due to attack of stem borer should be sprayed with either of the insecticide i.e. 250 ml of Phosphamidon 85 SL or 560 mi of Monocrotophos 36 SL or one litre of Chlorpyriphos 20 EC or 800 mi of Ekalux 20 AF in 100 litres of water per acre.